By Kendall King
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Cypress County councillors and staff are calling for an end to harassment they say has been perpetrated by individuals opposing the placement of the Irvine Community Resource Centre.
Construction of the centre, which will house the Irvine Community Library and several public meeting spaces, has been a longstanding desire of council, made possible last year through acquisition of a provincial Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant.
The project was initially approved in November, but opposition from several Irvine and area residents prompted council to reevaluate the matter after receiving additional public feedback.
Council approved the project for a second time in March. While council members acknowledged the disapproval of some community members, they determined construction of the resource centre was in the best interest of the community as a whole.
Nevertheless, the item again appeared on council’s March 28 meeting agenda, with Ward 8 (Redcliff/Highway 523 North) Coun. Shane Hok putting forward a motion to rescind the project and remove it from county’s capital budget, citing harassment-fuelled safety concerns as his motivation.
“A small group of residents have been very dangerous and aggressive in the dealings with the county staff,” said Hok, who described the residents’ actions as ‘bullying’ and ‘harassment.’
“The county has a legal obligation to provide both a safe workplace for its employees and to maintain safe communities … Therefore, council (may) rescind the motion to proceed with this capital project in the Hamlet of Irvine not because we don’t think this is a positive project for the Hamlet of Irvine and the surrounding area, but because the community is suffering from the current circumstances and it needs to stop.”
Several councillors agreed with Hok, sharing they too have felt harassed via calls, online messages and in person, but highlighting their primary concern is non-elected county staff, who they say have also received such treatment.
But other councillors also voiced concern that if they rescind the project, not only will it set a precedent that bullying is a formidable means of lobbying, but would also deprive the community of that investment.
When put to vote, it was decided the project would not be rescinded, but Reeve Dan Hamilton emphasized harassment toward county staff would not be tolerated.
“I hope all this bullying crap stops because our staff doesn’t deserve any of that,” said Hamilton. “Enough is enough. We’ve made a decision; it’s going through.”
Following the session, Hamilton confirmed to Southern Alberta Newspapers that, to his knowledge, no threats of harm have been received by county councillors or staff, but he remains worried about the physical and emotional safety of both.
Hamilton also reiterated that RCMP will be involved if deemed needed.